How to Deal with Yelp Problems

We’ve talked about the importance of online reviews a lot lately, and Yelp is one of the more popular places to leave and read reviews.
As the site has become more influential, it has been fraught with controversy. From businesses selling manufactured reviews to both reviewers and businesses complaining about the filtering algorithm, to accusations of extortion against Yelp itself, there’s no shortage of online debate.
The thing is, Yelp doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Although it did struggle as a business for a few years between 2012 and 2015, the popularity of the online review site hasn’t slowed down—and this means that you need to be prepared for the problems associated with Yelp.
Here are some of the more common complaints, and what you can do to handle them.

Problem: Some clients opened Yelp accounts to post a review, but their reviews of my practice are filtered or “not recommended.”

Yelp’s goal is to provide quality reviews of businesses by people who have used these businesses. To do that, it’s built a famously fluid filtering algorithm that looks for red flags that might indicate a review is fraudulent.
Reviews that pass the test appear on the business page under “Recommended Reviews.” Reviews that don’t pass end up hidden further down the page, and users have to click on the arrow to see them.
Naturally, the factors in the algorithm are top-secret; after all, if everyone knew how to beat it, there would be no point in having it. As Yelp explains it:

“Every Yelp review is automatically evaluated by Yelp’s recommendation software based on quality, reliability, and user activity on Yelp. More often than not, those useful reviews come from active members of the Yelp community.”

This would seem to suggest that a reviewer’s activity on Yelp is a big factor. If it’s someone’s first review, it’s more likely to be filtered because the reviewer doesn’t have enough sway on the site yet. This is because it’s not uncommon for people to make fake accounts to post a single spam review.

Tip: Provide more than one option when asking for reviews.

It’s important to note that genuine reviews that get caught here may not stay in the filter forever—as the reviewer builds up a reputation on the site, all of their reviews will be affected, and a good review can be pulled out of the filter.
To avoid the issue of waiting for someone to build up enough rapport on the site, though, provide options for pet owners who want to leave reviews. There are all kinds of options out there for reviews, including Google My Business, Facebook, Angie’s List, and more.

Problem: I only have one review, and it’s negative.

This happens all too often—and if left alone, it can leave a bad impression of your practice.

Tip: Get more reviews.

Yelp adamantly denies that it filters out positive reviews while recommending only negative ones, so logic dictates that getting more reviews means that at least some of your reviewers will pass the filtering test and will appear in the recommended reviews.
It’s a common thought out there that asking for reviews violates Yelp’s terms of service, and certainly there are pages on the site that indicate this position. Yelp does discourage business owners from asking for reviews—but when asked directly, it stated that simply asking if customers would write a review of your business did not necessarily constitute a violation of the terms of service.
What does violate the terms of service? Incentivizing customers to leave reviews. So don’t do it.

Problem: A competitor or disgruntled former employee posted a fake negative review.

Again, this can leave a bad taste in the mouths of potential clients—and is exactly why Yelp has a flagging system.

Tip: If you can prove it, report it.

Posting reviews of an employer, former employer, or competitor is against Yelp’s terms of service, so if you’re absolutely sure of it, report the review to Yelp. Be sure to do your research first, and make sure you have proof of the reviewer’s identity, as well as proof that it’s a conflict of interest or otherwise violates the content guidelines. Yelp will not remove reviews based on allegations.

Problem: I have no proof that the review is fake, so Yelp won’t take it down.

You tried to report the review, but without evidence, the case fell through. What now?

Tip: Trust the judgment of Internet users.

As we discussed in a previous post, you should respond to every negative review online—and that includes the ones that you think are fake. However, you definitely shouldn’t make any accusations against the reviewer, because an uninformed reader could perceive you to be the disgruntled party.
Instead, reply in your usual respectful, helpful way, inviting the reviewer to contact you to resolve the situation. Much like on social media, readers will see this and although they may not know the review is fake, they will get an idea of your customer service and how you treat complaints and decide for themselves.

Problem: Someone posted a negative review on my Yelp page, but it’s not actually of my business!

Mistakes happen, but the issue here is that this both damaging for your business, and potentially a violation of Yelp’s terms of service. You want to get this situation remedied as soon as you can.

Tip: Report it.

It’s against Yelp’s terms of service to post a review of a business if there wasn’t a consumer experience—but it’s important to remember that as far as online review websites are concerned, just because there wasn’t an exchange of money doesn’t mean there wasn’t a consumer experience. Simply not having a record of the person being a customer may not be enough to prove your case.
However, this doesn’t mean you can’t prove it. In some situations, like the practice that received a negative review for the care of a pet snake, you could probably make a strong case without evidence of the reviewer’s identity. Proving you’ve never treated snakes, for example, may be enough to prove that the review was intended for a different practice.

Problem: The nicest, most wonderful review we’ve ever received is filtered!

Again, this likely has something to do with the reviewer’s activity on Yelp. This review can be pulled out of the filter, but it will take time. In the meantime…

Tip: Ask the reviewer if you can use the content of their Yelp review as a testimonial on your website.

This is subject to your local veterinary association’s jurisdiction, but if they are that thrilled with their experience, chances are they will happily agree.

What should you avoid doing on Yelp?

There are a few things to be aware of so you don’t end up in trouble with the site.

Don’t buy reviews.

There are companies and individuals out there who will post positive reviews for a fee. Although it might seem like an easy way to boost your star rating, it’s a form of false advertising known as astroturfing. Yelp takes this very seriously—to the point where it has launched lawsuits and participated in undercover investigations to shut these businesses and individuals down. Operation Clean Turf, for example, shut down 19 such businesses and resulted in $350,000 in fines.

Don’t post fake reviews.

It’s good practice for people who run businesses to post reviews so they get an idea of how the community works, but do not post fake reviews. It’s unethical, and you wouldn’t want someone to do it to your practice.

Don’t incentivize online reviews.

Offering any kind of reward for an online review, whether it’s a prize, a monetary amount, or even a discount, violates Yelp’s terms of service. Just ask your clients nicely to leave reviews for you. There are many people out there who’d be willing to post a review but haven’t simply because they haven’t thought to.

Don’t feel pressured into paid advertising.

There are plenty of stories from businesses who feel their reviews were unfairly filtered just after they declined a sales pitch to advertise, or found fewer reviews were filtered as soon as they bought some ads.
The data doesn’t seem to support these stories, though. According to a study in the Harvard Business Review, researchers spent three years going through filtered and unfiltered reviews, and found that advertising status is not likely to be one of the factors in the algorithm.
Michael Luca, one of the authors of the study, appeared in a video from the Washington Post saying: “We’ve looked into data based on people who advertise and people who don’t advertise, and we don’t see any difference at all in the likelihood of having reviews filtered.”
If a sales representative from Yelp does call after you’ve claimed your business page and you don’t want to advertise, just politely decline.Yelp is an influential source of online reviews, so it’s important to keep a close eye on its activity. Be sure to claim or create your business listing, let clients know they can leave reviews there, and monitor the reviews (including the ones that are filtered and displayed in the “not currently recommended” section) to see if anything needs your attention.


Find out how a WebDVM website can help you with online reviews for your veterinary practice without breaking Yelp’s rules.


17 Comments

  • Susan T Sutton says:

    I have SO much to contribute to YELP, and feel terrible about the small businesses I’ve promised and intended to recommend, because I’m unable to sign on!!!
    I’ve given ratings for individual hotel chains, restaurants, Priceline,…..but to my mind, a YELP positive review means the most, because that is where I personally go to find the best people/businesses.
    But YELP has closed my account for some stupid sign-in problems, and I see no way to get a new password, sign up with a different email (I have already tried Facebook sign-in), so I’m stuck. Your website and FAQs offer no help.
    Wouldn’t it be mutually benefit if you were more user-friendly?
    Please CALL me so I can participate by sharing my truth….
    Susan Sutton – 415-299-9799……..San Francisco (Marin County)

    • Anna Mazereeuw says:

      Hello Susan,
      I’m sorry to hear about your problems with Yelp. It definitely sounds frustrating that you can’t sign on or contribute reviews as you would like.
      LifeLearn works specifically with veterinary practices, so this article is written to address common Yelp issues from a business perspective. You may have better luck finding your solution in an article written about common problems that customers or reviewers deal with.
      I wish you all the best and hope you find the information you need to resolve your sign on problems.

  • cloud server says:

    I am a small business owner who received a 1-star review on Yelp (all others are 5-star reviews). Yelp won’t let me respond to the negative review. They have locked me out of the page (even after I claimed it legitimately). Free speech is great when it’s a two-way street. When it’s a one-way street it’s fascism. I’ve done everything I can to contact Yelp and ask that they please let me have the chance to post a rebuttal and they said NO. Oppression like this seems almost unconstitutional. So I contacted the reviewer and asked why they posted such a scathing review when 1) they stated they were happy at the time of service and 2) they did not give me the chance to rectify the situation before posting a horrible review over a year after their date of service. The reviewer took to Yelp and posted additional negative comments about me as a result. Any advice you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    • Hi there,
      I’m very sorry to hear about your issues with Yelp! It’s unfortunate that they won’t allow you the opportunity to respond to the review – I agree that you should definitely be able to respond to an unhappy customer. It sounds like you’ve already taken a lot of steps to try and rectify the situation.
      Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a whole lot you can do about the current negative review you have. Fortunately, that might not be the end of the world! Another one of our blog posts (you can find it here: http://bit.ly/1FBfiN3) explains how negative reviews, in small quantities, can actually be beneficial to your business. Negative reviews can build trust about the legitimacy of your business’ reviews. If what you say is true and you have several other 5 star reviews, then you might just need to trust that your customers can see how many happy clients you have compared to this one unhappy individual. It’s too bad that you can’t respond to the review publicly, but there is one other action you can take….drown your Yelp page in even more good reviews. Check out this blog post for more tips on how to ask for reviews: http://bit.ly/1TAxYqD.
      This probably isn’t exactly the advice you wanted to hear, but I hope that you still find it helpful.
      Best of luck!

    • Beth says:

      This Is not how they work. If no one has helped you yet, please email me at musicallegacy79@aol.com and I’ll do what I can to help, if you like. I’m not a professional but I’ve helped a friend who is a doctor out a lot and it seems to help him.

      • Rachael says:

        All my reviews on Yelp are tucked under Not recommended. I am a small business. I am also a paid advertiser at yelp. So far no customers from yelp. I am not sure how to get good yelp rating.

  • the domain says:

    Hi, Yelp agreed to remove a false review from our profile, they sent an email saying it would be removed but its been over a week and there has been no action how can we inquire with them?

  • Craig says:

    We were advertising through YELP at the cost of $350 per month up to Jan.02016. I told them I wanted to try for 6 month and at that time we’d renew, somehow the slipped an auto renew right by us, NICE! when we canceled because that add only produce one sale in SEVEN months, the following adds when into the “4 reviews for C and L Design Specialists that are not currently recommended”. Like the yelp salesman said, “it’s something in the software program that determines how your reviews are shown!” That YELP software apparently has a Cache register !
    Reviews they canned follow.
    Maureen D.
    Riverside, CA
    0 friends
    2 reviews
    5.0 star rating 1/17/2016
    From the very first appointment we could tell C&L was going to be a good fit to meet our expectations. They are prompt and will do everything possible to meet all the customers requirements. We often joked about their motto Expect Excellence!! Based on the several meetings and conversations that is what we expected and that is exactly what we got. Our entertainment center is exactly what we expected and it is excellent to the very last detail. You will not find better quality in both your hardware, design and most importantly the people.
    Dave&Maureen D.
    Craig S.
    Comment from Craig S. of C and L Design Specialists
    Business Owner
    1/17/2016 Maureen & Dave
    It’s always wonderful hearing from you. As for our little joke, I believe I told Dave… Read more
    Tim B.
    Tim B.
    Carlsbad, CA
    3 friends
    6 reviews
    5.0 star rating 6/19/2015
    Craig and his team are amazing! From his design help to the quality of the materials to the installers, it was all an amazing experience. They do beautiful work and we had them do an office and entertainment cabinets and they both look so amazing that we get many compliments. We will be using Craig and his team in the future and I would highly recommend their services!
    Craig S.
    Comment from Craig S. of C and L Design Specialists
    Business Owner
    6/24/2015 Tim you directly pinpointed why we are what we are, repeats and referrals!. Thanks again and keep… Read more
    Dean P.
    Dean P.
    Corona, CA
    0 friends
    2 reviews
    5.0 star rating 11/10/2014
    C & L Designs built in two cabinets wrapped around my new fireplace and totally exceeded my expectations. Craig and Randi were great from the first meeting we had all the way up to the install date. The installers, Marcos and Carlos were fantastic. They worked nonstop for eight hours without a break and hustled every minute from start to finish. I highly recommend C & L Designs to anybody seeking excellent cabinets, attention to detail and service that’s second to none. Thank you for delivering more than what we were expecting. Way to go!
    Add owner reply
    Bonnie L.
    Bonnie L.
    Mission Viejo, CA
    0 friends
    2 reviews
    5.0 star rating 11/10/2014
    I waited 35 years to redo my kitchen, it turned out wonderful. C and L Designs worked with me to get what I wanted. They put up with my many calls to ask questions about this and that. We went over all the designs to make sure things were where they needed to be, and where I wanted them.
    I would recommend them (and have) to my friends that need any kind of cabinetry done.
    I’m putting together ideas for my husbands den . . . shhhh don’t tell him.

  • Becky Lund/Team Lund is the Top Area Producer for the past 4 years & has a number of excellent, non-filtered reviews. When doing a Google search query of local real estate agents, the Yelp ‘Best 10 Real Estate Agents’ comes up on the first page (right above TeamLund) but she/the team isn’t listed on it! Makes no sense at all. A number of agents on the list have far fewer reviews so where is the logic? Or algorithm for that matter? I have tried fruitlessly to figure it out. Our site has quality links, we blog, we are more active on social media than ANY of those on the list. Any ideas?

    • Anna Mazereeuw says:

      Hi Tracy,
      I’m sorry to hear that your business is not being recognized on Yelp’s list. I unfortunately don’t have any insight into why your business isn’t appearing. It could be that you need to pay Yelp to appear on the list, or it could be simply be the algorithms are measuring something you haven’t considered. I’m very sorry that I couldn’t be any more helpful. Best of luck to you and your team. Yelp troubles aside, it sounds like you guys are doing a fantastic job of marketing yourselves!

    • tim sagges says:

      Do you actually pay Yelp for an ad? If not, then there’s the answer to your question. They are frauds.

  • tim sagges says:

    The problem I have with Yelp is this. Any time a potential customer looks up my business for reviews, they are first bombarded with banner ads coming from my competitors. And according to the dozens of sales calls I get from them, I too can pay to have that stopped.

  • DX says:

    The problem with YELP is that they won’t delete ERRONEOUS information. I’m not talking about negative reviews. I’m talking about someone saying something like the martini they had at the restaurant was subpar when the restaurant does not even serve alcohol. When I try to report such things, YELP classifies this as the reviewers opinion and won’t remove the false information.

  • William says:

    We have 112 five star reviews on Google and 1 neg. Review for the same competitors child that left a neg. Review on Yelp! We have at least 10 /5 star reviews on yelp but only one neg. review gets posted and its from a 12 year old child! Why do u think there is no picture of the Washingtons! Wow, What a way to look out on consumers and ruin a business under false pretense in the process!

  • MC says:

    Yelp is a company of EXTORTION. I sat down with Yelp staffs about my business reviews and told me that depending on how much money I pay to yelp on advertisement on monthly basis, they will elevate positive reviews of my business to be more visible. We need a yelp review on Yelp itself. I will give them negative 10!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close menu